Please welcome Cynthia Kuhn, author of the Lila Maclean academic mystery series and other works.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I grew up on the edge of Lake Ontario, and I very much miss it. So my perfect day would be near a large body of water, waking up to the sound of waves. Breakfast on the patio overlooking the water. A few hours of writing, the kind where you are so in the zone that it’s like watching a film. Then swimming and walking on the beach looking for shells with my family, followed by dinner at a restaurant overlooking the water. Afterwards, there would be fireworks for some reason–reflected in the water.
Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?
Really want to say my signature colors are “blush and bashful” (name that movie)! But the truth is: black clothes, shoes, and bags. Though I do have a thing for long jackets, especially if they are textured in some way or have interesting details, which I wear over the black.
Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?
My grandmother introduced me to L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables and Emily Byrd Starr series, which I re-read endlessly. William Goldman’s The Princess Bride was one of my family’s favorite books…we read it aloud during long car trips. Also Margaret Atwood and Sylvia Plath, whom I also re-read endlessly and now teach courses on. As far as mysteries go, probably the writers who gave us Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, and Amanda Cross, who gave us professor/sleuth Kate Fansler (in addition to the thought-provoking literary criticism she wrote under her real name, Carolyn G. Heilbrun).
Do you listen to music when you write?
Usually classical. Or Vitamin Strings Quartet, who interpret pop songs. It has to be instrumental, though. I can’t listen to words and produce words at the same time.
If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Would a Heath Bar count? Delicious at first bite but instantly crumbles into shards in your mouth, sticks in your teeth, and makes for a very complicated experience. That’s what it’s like for Lila at Stonedale.
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Spending time in academia. It’s a fascinating and complex place.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Issues related to identity, equity, and voice.
Tell us about your main character.
Lila Maclean stands up for what she believes in. She wants to be a successful professor but is worried about navigating Stonedale’s tightly knit community with its unspoken codes, especially since she has a tendency to blurt things at inopportune times. Although Lila only reluctantly becomes a sleuth out of necessity, she has the appropriate determination to see things through. (I’m not sure if she knows that, but she does.)
Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Nancy Drew meets Sandra Bullock’s character in any rom-com meets Alicia Florrick.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
- Margaret Atwood, because of Alias Grace and if you haven’t read that amazing book (based on a true mid-19th century double murder!), you should run and do so immediately;
- Amanda Cross (Carolyn G. Heilbrun), because maybe she would talk about her process in creating her wonderful character Professor Kate Fansler;
- Dorothy Parker because oh, the wit! (Her story, “Big Blonde” has been called a mystery, so she counts, right?);
- Arthur Conan Doyle because in addition to All the Genius, I would love to know which screen adaptation of Sherlock Holmes he likes the best;
- Gertrude Stein, because no matter how many times I re-read Blood on the Dining Room Floor: A Murder Mystery, I still have questions; and
- Agatha Christie, because of everything.
What’s next for you?
Book two in the Lila Maclean series, in which she once again becomes ensnared in mysterious happenings on campus!
Cynthia Kuhn teaches at Metropolitan State University of Denver and serves as president of Sisters in Crime-Colorado.